Inuit language task force moves toward standardizing written Inuktut
“I am glad this is finally happening"
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s language task force is moving forward with regional consultations this year to set the groundwork for a unified Inuktut writing system in Canada.
The eight-member Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq task group, made up of language experts representing each of Canada’s Inuit regions, have been working under the direction of ITK’s Amaujaq Centre for Inuit Education since 2012.
The group visited both the Inuvialuit and Nunatsiavut regions this past fall, where they had discussions with teachers, elders, translators and others about specific changes in orthography and spelling that could help Inuit move towards a more standardized writing system.
Those meetings produced a mixture of support and concern from Inuit language advocates, who grapple with preserving the language, but also preserving their own regional dialect, the task force said.
Linguists have largely recommended that Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq look to majority usage when trying to standardize certain elements of the written Inuit language.
For example, the “ch” sound is used in the Inuvialuit region, although it’s written and pronounced as “ts” elsewhere.
Linguists would recommend the use of “ts” as the new standard, reports the task force, while the Inuvialuit could continue to pronounce the “ch” sound.
But while changes to the written language can be difficult for some Inuit to support, the task force said that regions like Inuvialuit and Nunatsiavut are both more worried about the revitalization of their languages.
“I am glad this is finally happening,” commented one participant at an Inuktut language consultation in the Nunatsiavut community of Nain last fall.
Next, the task force will head to Nunavut, with visits to the Baffin Teachers Association conference and Nunavut Language Symposium scheduled for Iqaluit later this month.
In March, the group will travel to meet with organizations in Nunavut’s Kitikmeot and Kivalliq regions and in Nunavik.
Those consultations will address the dual use of syllabics and Roman orthography.
Four different versions of syllabics are used between eastern Nunavut and Nunavik, the task force said, while overall, there are 10 variations in the way the Inuit language is written across the Inuit Nunangat regions of Canada.
Once Inuit understand that, task force members said everyone generally sees the need for a more unified system.
“I was not in agreement with standardization at first and would not want to use the change proposed, but I understand the need for it for the youth,” a participant from Aklavik in Northwest Territories said during consultations there last fall.
Following its regional consultations, Atausiq Inuktut Titirausiq plans to host a national language summit later in 2015, with the goal of drafting a recommendation for Inuit groups to take back to their respective governments.
“I commend the members of the AIT task group for their work in bringing this issue to their communities and ensuring that Inuit are informed,” said ITK president Terry Audla in a Feb. 2 news release.
“Of course, all change is difficult, especially change affecting how we communicate with each other across our homeland. So it is important for Inuit to provide input into this national discussion.”
The Counselling Foundation of Canada has funded ITK’s language initiative since 2011.